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Descend the Gunnison Trail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Montrose, Colorado



1 miles

Elevation Gain

1800 ft

Route Type



Added by Mike Quine

Short and STEEP. Nothing sweet about this hike...at least in terms of its gentleness. The hike is a calf-busting one, especially if done with backpacking kit in tow. The reward is well worth the risk of slipping.

The name is powerful enough to ignite a sense of adventure in even those without imagination. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison! I mean, where do I sign up!? 

To the lucky few who decide to make the full descent into the canyon, the cuts, bruises, and bragging rights are more than ample reward for setting foot on this path. 

There are several prescribed routes for reaching the river that slides along the bottom of the canyon itself. The Gunnison Trail is, in fact, one of the more manageable ones by steepness standards (take that into consideration when carrying a full overnight kit). That being said, even for experienced hikers, many apparent social trails or break-off trails can throw off your orientation so be sure to pay close attention while on this trail. 

Ok, so opting to take the Gunnison Trail will find you starting at the Oak Flat Trail Trailhead just outside of the South Rim Visitor Center. You will follow the obvious path west for about 1/3 of a mile. You will certainly encounter a fair share of switchbacks. Be extra cautious of these switchbacks in the winter. A sign that says, "River Access" will serve as a clue that you are still on the right path. 

The switchbacks continue but eventually put you up against a formidable chain (compliments of the NPS) to help aid yourself down an otherwise technical descent. You will notice the chain eventually becomes sort of useless towards to bottom of the descent thanks to the rules of physics and geometry. 

If you have made it this far without slipping, there but rests one final test before you. Meandering trails will be interrupted by a steep and slick drop. As I did this in the winter/spring fringe months, this drop was nearly covered in snow and ice. For me I had to descend on my rear. If your conditions are better, sure-footedness will be your best bet on making it down carefully. 

From here its the home stretch. The river should be becoming increasingly larger in perspective until you make the final scramble to the bottom. 

Feast your eyes on your accomplishments. Sit down and enjoy a well earned snack. Be weary of bears in the area. They are accustomed to human food, therefore heightened wildlife precautions ought to be taken. 

Almost 2000 feet down in just 1 mile. Feel that burn! The ascent doesn't feel much better so be sure you packed enough water for the return as well.

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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Drive the Scenic loop at Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

Hike the Oak Flat Loop

Hike to Tomichi Point and Gunnison Point Overlooks

Camp at Black Canyon of the Gunnison's South Rim Campground

Drive the East Portal Road

Hike the Gunnison Route